The Nightmare Before Christmas


Reviewed by: Scott Macdonald

The Nightmare Before Christmas
"Henry Selick directs with clever staging and infinite patience. The musical numbers are catchy, boisterous and hugely entertaining."

The greatest gift the movies can offer us is insight into a whole new world, through visual, aural and storytelling integration. There is not a single aspect of Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas that would believably be a part of the real world. Stop-motion animation is the method to this madness, having been refined a hundredfold for the spectacular Corpse Bride - but even with this comparatively primitive technique, imagination and great skill shine through. The striking look, the impossibly detailed and realised world are so good, it's almost a shame to have to hang a plot upon it.

But, even so, dear reader, we do have a cheerfully dark and wickedly fun plot that Dr Seuss would have had fun watching. Following a fabulously creative and downright weird Halloween musical number, we are introduced to the spindly Jack Skellington. He is the Pumpkin King, the leader of Halloween Town. Sure, there's also a (literally) two-faced mayor, but he's "only an elected official, not capable of making decisions!". Jack is having a crisis of faith; he's become tired of the same old routine. After getting lost in the woods, Jack finds the doors to all our holiday seasons: Easter, Valentine's Day, Thanksgiving, and... Christmas Town?

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After a dizzying, candy-cane spin in Christmas Town, Jack regains his inspiration and tries to exorcise his passion. This is done by giving Father Christmas a break for the year - kidnap will do! - and roping Halloween Town's inhabitants into preparing presents. His own externalised turmoil in finding the meaning of Christmas is very funny, much like Chaplin's work in Modern Times, as though finding logic where none exists. In spite of his best efforts, Jack can convince no one to grasp the spirit of the season. Will the Pumpkin King seal Christmas' fate, or will he learn to accept his own destiny as the "demon of light"?

Burton's delightful story treatment and Caroline Thompson's well-paced and tight screenplay do not waste a beat. Henry Selick directs with clever staging and infinite patience. The musical numbers are catchy, boisterous and hugely entertaining. Maestro Danny Elfman - who also provides Jack's singing voice - follows through on simple melodies and easy sing-along choruses. I defy you not to have "Kidnap the Sandy Claws" rolling about in your head for days!

But I find myself returning to the sumptuous production design, the amazingly realised world and detailed characters. The inhabitants of Halloween Town are freaky beyond belief and will knock the socks off young children - take the PG rating as intended. There is not a wasted frame throughout this movie - every one holds something interesting to look at. My personal favourites: The Frankenweenie-inspired reindeer substitutes which provoke Bride Of Frankenstein-like giggles; the gifts that the children recieve; and the villainous and scary Oogie-Boogie's lair. How exciting!

Reviewed on: 18 Nov 2006
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The Nightmare Before Christmas packshot
3D version of Tim Burton's stop-animation film about Hallowe'en Jack's fascination with Christmas gets its annual trot around the cinema block.
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Director: Henry Selick

Writer: Caroline Thompson, based on a story by Tim Burton and Michael McDowell

Starring: Danny Elfman, Chris Sarandon, Catherine O'Hara, William Hickey, Glenn Shadix, Paul Reubens, Ken Page, Edward Ivory, (voices).

Year: 1993

Runtime: 76 minutes

BBFC: PG - Parental Guidance

Country: US


London 2006
SSFF 2009

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If you like this, try:

Corpse Bride
The Polar Express